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Microsoft Word (v.2010)

Alternative Text for Images & Graphics

When using images or other graphical objects, such as charts and graphs, it is important to ensure that the information you intend to convey by the image is also conveyed to people who cannot see the image. This can be accomplished by adding concise alternative text to each image. If an image is too complicated to concisely describe in the alternative text alone (artwork, flowcharts, etc.), provide a short text alternative and a longer description as well.

Tips for writing alternative text

  • Try to answer the question "what information is the image conveying?"
  • If the image does not convey any useful information, leave the alternative text blank.
  • If the image contains meaningful text, ensure all of the text is replicated.
  • Alternative text should be fairly short, usually a sentence or less and rarely more than two sentences.
  • If more description is required (e.g., for a chart or graph), provide a short description in the alternative text (e.g., a summary of the trend) and more detail in the long description, see below.
  • Test by having others review the document with the images replaced by the alternative text .

Tips for writing longer descriptions

  • Long descriptions should be used when text alternatives (see above) are insufficient to answer the question "what information is the image conveying?"
  • In some situations, the information being conveyed will be how an image looks (e.g., an artwork, architectural detail, etc.). In these cases, try to describe the image without making too many of your own assumptions.
  • One approach is to imagine you are describing the image to a person over the phone.
  • Ensure that you still provide concise alternative text to help readers decide if they are interested in the longer description.
To add alternative text
  1. Right click the object
  2. Select Format Picture…
  3. Select the Alt Text option from the list
  4. Fill in the Description.


Avoid Floating items

When images and objects are inserted into Word 2010 documents they default to being an "inline object". Inline objects keep their position on the page relative to a portion of the text. A "floating" object keeps its position relative to the page, while text flows around it. As content moves up or down on the page, the object stays where it was placed. To ensure that images and objects remain with the text that references it, always position it as an inline object.
Similarly, avoid placing drawing objects directly into the document (e.g., as borders, to create a diagram). Instead, create borders with page layout tools and insert complete graphical objects.
To ensure an object is inline:

  1. Select the object
  2. Go to menu item: Page Layout
  3. Select Position from the Arrange section
  4. Select In Line with Text

Headings & Styles

Any documents that are longer than a few paragraphs require structuring to make them more straightforward for readers to understand. One of the easiest ways to do this is to use "True Headings" to create logical divisions between paragraphs. True headings are more than just bolded, enlarged, or centered text; they are structural elements that order and levels provide a meaningful sequence to users of assistive technologies.

Tips for headings

  • Use the default headings styles provided ("Heading ", "Heading 2", etc.)
  • Nest headings properly (e.g., the sub-headings of a "Heading 1" are "Heading 2", etc.)
  • Do not skip heading levels
To Apply a heading
  1. Select text
  2. Right-click and select Styles
  3. Select the heading style from the list
To Apply headings using the styles toolbar
  1. Select text
  2. Go to menu item: Home
  3. In the Styles section, select the heading you wish to apply

Note: You can scroll through the multiple heading styles using the arrows on the right side of the Styles section. You can also change the Style design by selecting the Change Styles button on the right.

Modify Styles & Create New ones

To modify heading styles
  1. Go to menu item: Home
  2. In the Styles section, right-click* the style you wish to use from the Styles Gallery
  3. Select Modify
  4. In the Modify Style dialog, make the appropriate changes to style characteristics
  5. Select OK
To Return to the default heading styles
  1. Go to menu item: Home
  2. In the Styles section, select Change Styles
  3. Select Style Set
  4. Select Word 2010 from the list

Use built-in structure



When using tables, it is important to ensure that they are clear and appropriately structured. This helps all users to better understand the information in the table and allows assistive technologies (e.g., screen readers) to provide context so that the information within the table can be conveyed in a meaningful way.

Tips for tables
  • Only use tables for tabular information, not for formatting, such as to position columns.
  • Use "real tables" rather than text formatted to look like tables using the TAB key or space bar. These will not be recognized by assistive technology.
  • Keep tables simple by avoiding merged cells and dividing complex data sets into separate smaller tables, where possible.
  • If tables split across pages, set the header to show at the top of each page. Also set the table to break between rows instead of in the middle of rows.
  • Create a text summary of the essential table contents. Any abbreviations used should be explained in the summary.
  • Table captions or descriptions should answer the question "what is the table's purpose and how is it organized?" (e.g., "A sample order form with separate columns for the item name, price and quantity").
  • Table cells should be marked as table headers when they serve as labels to help interpret the other cells in the table.
  • Table header cell labels should be concise and clear.
  • Ensure the table is not "floating" on the page (see previous section)
To add a table with headings
  1. Go to menu item: Insert
  2. In the Tables section, select the Tables icon
  3. Select the number of rows and columns you would like your table to have
  4. Select the table and a Table Tools menu item should appear
  5. Go to menu item: Table Tools > Design
  6. In the Table Style Options section, select the Header Row check box
    Note: Whenever possible, keep tables simple with just 1 row of headings.

At this time, Word 2010 does not properly communicate the location of header rows to assistive technologies. The following work-around may be used with some versions of JAWS:

Work-around: To specify for JAWS that a table row is a header row

  1. Place the cursor in any cell within the row containing headings
  2. Go to menu item: Insert
  3. In the Links section, select Bookmark
  4. Type "ColumnTitle" and press Enter
  5. Note: Only mark one cell in the row.


When you create lists, it is important to format them as "real lists". Otherwise, assistive technologies will interpret your list as a series of short separate paragraphs instead of a coherent list of related items.

To create an ordered or unordered list
  1. Go to menu item: Home
  2. In the Paragraph section, select the Bullets icon for unordered lists or select the Numbering icon for ordered lists
  3. To choose a different list format, select the arrow beside the icon
  4. Select a format from the format Library that appears in the drop-down menu
To modify list styles
  1. Go to menu item: Home
  2. In the Paragraph section, select the arrow beside the Bullets icon for unordered lists or select the arrow beside the Numbering icon for ordered lists
  3. Select Define New Bullet… to create a new unordered list format
  4. Select Define New Number Format… to create a new ordered list format
  5. In the New Bullet dialog or the New Number Format dialog, select the list characteristics
  6. Select OK


Use Columns feature for placing text in columns.
Note: Because columns can be a challenge for users of some assistive technologies, consider whether a column layout is really necessary.

Page Breaks

Start a new page by inserting a page break instead of repeated hard returns.

Table of Contents

Creating an index or table of contents to outline office document content can provide a means of navigating the meaningful sequence of content.
The best way to generate a table of contents is after applying the predefined heading styles, such as "Heading 1" as described above, to the headings that you want to include in your table of contents. After you apply these styles, you can then create a table of contents.

To insert a table of contents
  1. Place the cursor in your document where you want to create the table of contents
  2. Go to menu item: References
  3. In the Table of Contents section, select Table of Contents
  4. Select the style that you want to use
To Update a table of contents
  1. Select the table
  2. Go to menu item: References
  3. In the Table of Contents section, select the Update Table button

Page numbering

Numbering the pages of your document helps those reading and editing your document effectively navigate and reference its content. For users of assistive technologies, it provides a valuable point of reference within the document.

To insert page numbers
  1. Go to menu item: Insert
  2. In the Header & Footer section, select Page Number
  3. Select where you would like to insert your page numbers
  4. Select the style of page number you would like to use
To format page numbers
  1. Go to menu item: Insert
  2. In the Header & Footer section, select Page Number
  3. Select Format Page Numbers…
  4. In the Page Number Format dialog, select the page format characteristics you would like to use
    Note: These changes are applied to the predefined page format styles. It does not create a new page format style.

Document titles

To change the title of the current document
  1. Go to menu item: File
  2. Select Info from the list in the left window pane
  3. In the right window pane, select on the Title text box
  4. Enter the Title
    Note: The Title defined in the properties is different than the file name. It is also unrelated to the template name, discussed above.


  • Charts can be used to make data more understandable for some audiences. However, it is important to ensure that your chart is as accessible as possible to all members of your audience.
  • All basic accessibility considerations that are applied to the rest of your document must also be applied to your charts and the elements within your charts. For example, use shape and Colour, rather than Colour alone, to convey information.
  • When creating line charts, use the formatting options to create different types of dotted lines to facilitate legibility for users who are Colour blind.
  • When creating bar charts, it is helpful to apply textures rather than Colours to differentiate the bars
  • Ensure that the contents are your chart are appropriate labeled to give users reference points that will help them to correctly interpret the information.
  • Use the formatting options to change predefined Colours, ensuring that they align with sufficient contrast requirements (see upcoming sections)
  • Consider providing the data that you used to create the chart in tabular form (e.g. as an appendix).


Make sure content is easy to see

Format of text

When formatting text, especially when the text is likely to printed, try to:

  • Use font sizes between 12 and 18 points for body text.
  • Use fonts of normal weight, rather than bold or light weight fonts. If you do choose to use bold fonts for emphasis, use them sparingly.
  • Use standard fonts with clear spacing and easily recognized upper and lower case characters. Sans serif fonts (e.g., Arial, Verdana) may sometimes be easier to read than serif fonts (e.g., Times New Roman, Garamond).
  • Avoid large amounts of text set all in caps, italic or underlined.
  • Use normal or expanded character spacing, rather than condensed spacing.
  • Avoid animated or scrolling text.

But can’t users just zoom in? Office applications do typically include accessibility features such as the ability to magnify documents and support for high contrast modes. However, because printing is an important aspect of many workflows and changing font sizes directly will change documents details such the pagination, the layout of tables, etc., it is best practice to always format text for a reasonable degree of accessibility.

To change the text size for a default named style
  • Go to menu item: Home
  • In the Styles section, right-click* the Style you wish to modify
  • Select Modify Style
  • Under Formatting in the Modify dialog box, select the appropriate font size
  • Exit with OK


The visual presentation of text and images of text should have a contrast ration of at least 4.5:1. To help you determine the contrast, here are some examples on a white background:

  • Very good contrast (Foreground=black, Background=white, Ratio=21:1)

    Example Text

  • Acceptable contrast (Foreground=#767676, Background=white, Ratio=4.54:1)

    Example Text

  • Unacceptable contrast (Foreground=#AAAAAA, Background=white, Ratio=2.32:1)

    Example Text


Also, always use a single solid Colour for a text background rather than a pattern.
In order to determine whether the Colours in your document have sufficient contrast, you can consult an online contrast checker, such as:

Avoid Relying on Colour or Sensory Characteristics

The instructions provided for understanding and operating content should not rely solely on sensory characteristics such as the Colour or shape of content elements. Here are two examples:

  • Do not track changes by simply changing the Colour of text you have edited and noting the Colour. Instead use Word 2010’s "Track Changes" feature to track changes.
  • Do not distinguish between images by referring to their appearance (e.g. "the bigger one"). Instead, label each image with a figure number and use that for references.

Avoid Using Images of Text

Before you use an image to control the presentation of text (e.g., to ensure a certain font or Colour combination), consider whether you can achieve the same result by styling "real text". If this is not possible, as with logos containing stylized text, make sure to provide alternative text for the image following the techniques noted above.

Make Content Easier to Understand

Write Clearly

By taking the time to design your content in a consistent way, it will be easier to access, navigate and interpret for all users:

  • Whenever possible, write clearly with short sentences.
  • Introduce acronyms and spell out abbreviations.
  • Avoid making the document too "busy" by using lots of whitespace and by avoiding too many different Colours, fonts and images.
  • If content is repeated on multiple pages within a document or within a set of documents (e.g., headings, footings, etc.), it should occur consistently each time it is repeated.

Provide Context for Hyperlinks

Hyperlinks are more effective navigation aids when the user understands the likely result of following the link. Otherwise, users may have to use trial-and-error to find what they need. To help the user understand the result of selecting a hyperlink, ensure that the link makes sense when read in the context of the text around it.

To add hyperlinks with meaningful text
  1. Type (or paste in) a web address and press spacebar or "Enter" to convert into a hyperlink
  2. Select the link and right-click*
  3. Select Edit Hyperlink (Ctrl + K)
  4. Edit the text in the Text to display box

Check accessibility

If you wish to check the accessibility of your document or template (see Technique 1, above), Word 2010 offers an "Accessibility Checker" to review your document against a set of possible issues that users with disabilities may experience in your file.

The "Accessibility Checker" classifies issues as

  • Error – content that makes a file very difficult or impossible for people with disabilities to understand
  • Warning – content that in most, but not all, cases makes a file difficult for people with disabilities to understand
  • Tip – content that people with disabilities can understand, but that might be better organized or presented in a way that would maximize their experience

To learn more about the Accessibility Checker and the rules it uses to identify and classify accessibility issues in your document, visit the Word 2010 help section (see Accessibility Help, below). Use the search term "accessibility checker rules" in the help search box.

To use the "Accessibility Checker"
  • Go to menu item: File
  • Select Info in the left window pane
  • Under Prepare for Sharing, an alert will appear if a potential accessibility issue has been detected
  • To view and repair the issues, select Check for Issues and then Check Accessibility
  • An Accessibility Checker task pane will open, showing the inspection results
  • Select a specific issue to see Additional Information

Follow the steps provided to fix or revise the content

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